In the 18th century, Poughkeepsie was a main port on the Hudson River and was involved in shipbuilding. During the American Revolution, the Continental Congress ordered two sea-going frigates to be built at Poughkeepsie as part of legislation to build 13 frigates throughout the colonies. Three-masted frigates were the backbone of many navies although smaller than more heavily gunned ships of the line. The Act of December 13, 1775 authorized (3) 24 gun frigates, (5) 28 gun frigates and (5) 32 gun frigates in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Connecticut. Politics were an important factor in distributing these contracts among the former colonies.
The Poughkeepsie frigates Congress (28 guns) and Montgomery (24 guns) were begun in 1776 by Lancaster Burling and launched unfinished into the Hudson in October of the same year. There was no urgency to complete them given the British control of New York City and blocked access to the sea. Men and materiel were diverted to more strategic locations including Lake Champlain. The fitting out of the two frigates apparently languished.
The frigates are believed to have been approximately 120 ft and 126 ft in length and 32 ft to 34 ft in beam. Based on surviving plans for a similar 28 gun frigate, the Congress featured a largely open gun deck with raised quarterdeck and forecastle. She was to have been armed with (26) 12 pounders and (2) 6 pounders. The Montgomery, named for the fallen general Richard Montgomery who died in the assault on Quebec in 1775, was to have been armed with (24) 9 pounders. Slightly shorter, her basic configuration was likely similar to that of the Congress.
During the British advance on forts Montgomery and Clinton in 1777, the two unfinished frigates were rushed down the Hudson to support the American defenses. They likely carried partial rigs and may not have carried their full complement of guns. The forts were attacked from the rear and both fell. Unable to retreat back up the river due to tide and wind, the Americans burned the ships and escaped in small boats in order to prevent the capture of the valuable frigates. To date, no evidence of either ship has been found in the river bottom leading to some speculation that they may not have sunk and that their salvage went unnoticed after the battle.
No images of either frigate survives, likely becacuse they remained unfinished. But other frigates, including the USS Confederacy, pictured here in a painting by William Nowland Van Powell, were completed, though the Confederacy also did not survive the Revolution. In fact, almost all of the frigates of the Continental Navy did not survive, either due to damage in battle, capture, or because they were sunk to avoid capture, like the Congress and Montgomery.
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This Captains' Log is kept by the captains and crew of Solaris and Apollonia and staff of the Hudson River Maritime Museum.